Let's talk about 'the algorithm'

Photo Credit: SloanReview.MIT

*Note – I’m touching on this subject because I’m finding there are still a lot of people on the web who really don’t know about this. If you’re aware of ‘the algorithm’ and the information contained in this post, please feel free to ignore.

Have you ever been searching Instagram and thought to yourself ‘Why the hell are you suggesting these photos to me, Instagram?’Likewise with Twitter, have you ever been on Twitter and wondered why some people’s Tweets are always at the top of your feed whilst others never seem to show up at all? This is ‘the algorithm’ at work.

Gone are the days of things showing up chronologically on your time line. These are the days when the algorithm picks ‘exactly what you want to see’. I say that in quotation marks because for weeks now my feed has been filled with babies and baby announcements, so clearly the algorithm isn’t functioning at proper capacity.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and even WordPress all use some form of an algorithm for showing you content. Cracking the algorithm is, in itself, a form of social media marketing.

So, how does it work? I suspect only employees on the inside know for the certain the full extent to the algorithm’s functions. That being said, there is one rule of function that seems to work.

  1. Engagement is the most important thing you can garner with your content.

In the case of all social media platforms, engagement is likes and comments. In the case of YouTube, engagement also includes people clicking the ‘Thumbs Down’ button to dislike, and it also includes watch time.

So, let’s break down how this works on each site.


TWITTER

Twitter is going to suggest to you the Tweets from people on your feed with the most comments and likes. So this is why, if you follow celebrities (in addition to your friends and family), the celebrities tweets are always going to appear near the top of your feed. This is also true for Follow Trains, comment threads or anything that garners a large amount of comments in a short period of time.

Twitter is also going to suggest to you the Tweets of the individuals who’s Tweets you’ve liked and commented on in recent past. So if you’re ever thinking that ‘I haven’t seen a tweet from this person in a long time’, it’s probably because you haven’t liked or commented on any of their Tweets.


INSTAGRAM

Even though in recent months they’ve moved away from publicly showing how many likes a photo has, likes are still a driving force to what photos are suggested to you on Instagram. This is how, if you search Instagram, you can always seem to find one of the Kardashian sisters, no matter how little attention you pay to them or care about them. With like… 100 million subscribers each on the platform, the moment they post a photo they get A TON of likes, and those likes are what push them to the top of suggested posts.

When a celebrity or influencer says “Comment below with”, that is them trying to garner more comments so that the algorithm suggest their content to more people. Trust me when I say this, they don’t give a damn about your comment. When someone you watch on YouTube says ‘Follow me on Instagram and tell me you came from YouTube’ that’s a tactic to garner more engagement and get their photos suggested to more people through the Instagram algorithm.

When a brand does a giveaway on their Instagram and the requirement of the giveaway is to ‘Tag a friend below’, this is a two-fold promotion for them. 1) You’re tagging your friend so that your friend can see their Instagram, which is promotion and 2) You’re commenting on their Instagram page, which counts as engagement. More engagement means they rank higher on the algorithm of suggested posts. Do you have a chance to win? Sure. One in… however many people tag a friend and like the post. This is why so many brands do giveaways. The promotion they’re getting just from you tagging their friends is worth the… probably 20 dollar value of whatever they’re giving away.


YOUTUBE

First, I will say that likes and dislikes count as engagement on YouTube. So, whether you hit the like button or you hit the dislike button you’re working in the favour of said person creating the YouTube video. If you really don’t like it, you’re doing much better if you just click away from the video.

Secondly, watch time plays a factor in engagement. YouTube tracks average watch time for videos. So, if a person makes a ten minute video and most people click off after 2-3 minutes, they’re not going to get recommended as a suggested video in Youtube’s algorithm. This is why so many people will say ‘Stay tuned to the end to find out —–‘ or ‘Stay tuned to the end for the giveaway’ or ‘Stay tuned to the end to hear a secret’. If you watch through to the end, that works in their favour with ad revenue, with Youtube’s algorithm and with making their channel look as though content is valuable and worthy of YouTube investing in.

When a Youtuber says ‘Comment Below with’… well with pretty much anything… that is their attempt to drive up engagement. ‘Comment below with your favourite day of the week!’ or ‘Comment below and tell me what colour your eyes are!’ That YouTuber really doesn’t give a flying fuck what colour your eyes are, they just want their video to look more legit to the YouTube algorithm. The more comments they get, the more legit they look, the more likely they are to get suggested as a ‘video to watch’.


FACEBOOK

Facebook, much like Instagram (because Facebook owns Instagram) will suggest to you the comments, status updates, photos, memories, etc… from the people who have the most likes and comments. So, you’ll notice that if you have a friend who is a bit of a Facebook whore, for lack of better terminology, their posts are always going to seem to be at the top of your feed… whereas your quiet friends who don’t have a ton of Facebook friends will always seem to appear much lower down on your feed.

If you are the quiet friend trying to get the word out about your blog, your writing or anything of the sort, the way to go about it is to ask for likes, ask for comments and to ask for people to share your content. The more engagement that you get, even if you need to ‘pimp your content out’ (for lack of better terminology), the better off you are.

If you’re using Facebook to spread word about your blog, your writing, your music or your artwork, I strongly recommend joining groups and finding a community of people who will help to share your content with Facebook. The more it’s seen, the more Facebook is going to recommend it.


WORDPRESS

WordPress, working with transparency (which I love) actually tells you just how their algorithms work. I talk a lot about them on my page, but mostly in the comments section of my posts, so I don’t know how many people are truly aware of how it works.

If you’d like the source of any of the following information –> Click Here (If you’re looking to work the WordPress algorithm in your favour, I highly recommend clicking and reading the entire page)

The algorithms are often being improved, and what content we show depends on a complex combination of factors. Here are examples of the types of information we may use to make our recommendations:

  • The title, content, tags, and categories of posts.
  • Other text from the site, such as usernames and logins; site names and the host name (support.wordpress.com).
  • Total number of likes and comments.
  • Who has liked and commented on a post.
  • Total number of followers.
  • Who has followed a site.
  • How recently a post was published.
  • How often or recently a site has posted.
  • The content of what you have liked and commented on.
  • Whether posts have links, images, or videos.
  • How often a site has been rejected from being recommended in the Reader.

Content we filter out from our algorithms:

  • Sites we think may be spam.
  • Sites that have mature content.
  • Sites with potentially objectionable content.
  • Content that is not in your language.

The moral of the story? Asking for likes, comments and engagement helps. It helps in big ways. If you can find another way of getting people talking that doesn’t require your asking them something, then you’ve struck gold. If someone is asking you to ‘Comment below what colour your eyes are’ don’t do it. If a brand says ‘Tag a friend and you’re entered to win’, unless you really, really love the brand, only give that free promotion to a brand that you really love. And, if you want to truly make an impact with the content you’re pumping out, surround yourself with an incredible online community who’ll stand behind you and your work so that you can share your world with the web and they will help and support you every step of the way.

Also, if the Kardashian’s keep getting recommended to you in spite of your not giving a flying fuck, you’re not crazy. They’re cheating the system. It’s estimated as much as 60 percent of Kim Kardashian’s online following is bots. Bots that help her stay at the top of page and relevant on just about every website. She’s got the money, so I wouldn’t have a hard time believing that she bought all those bots.

Also, there’s a rumour going around (I’ve yet to see in action) that you can now buy bots to artifically ‘growth hack’ your accounts whilst you’re least active on social media. I don’t know if this is true or not, I’ve not seen it in action. But… I did see a relatively average Youtuber shoot from 52,000 subscribers to 750,000 subscribers in about four days earlier this month. So, I don’t have a hard time believing it… especially since his engagement is still the same as it was when he had 52,000 subscribers.

A free tool for bloggers.

If you’ve never heard me say it before, I’ll say it now: Analytics are one of the best and important tools that you can use for growing a blog, or form. WordPress tracks analytics specific to your blog itself, but, if you branch out to sharing posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest the analytics WordPress tracks with respect to incoming visitors is limited.

This is where ‘Bit.ly’ comes in. Bit.ly’s slogan is ‘Unleash the power of the link’ and that it really, really does.

BIT.LY

If you share your posts through any social media platforms, I would strongly recommend considering a Bit.ly account.

Bit.ly allows you to create custom, shortened links that are trackable. Why does this matter? Because analytics are integral to growth. And, if you can track your links then you can find out how to better share. If you’re going to go through the effort of sharing your posts to other social media platforms, then you might as well do so in the most effective way.

How it works:

  1. Create a Bit.ly account. It’s completely free and takes less than five minutes to sign up.
  2. Copy the link of the post that you’re wishing to share to social media and beyond.
  3. Go to bit.ly and on the top right side of the page there is an orange button that says ‘Create’. Click ‘Create’
  4. In the pinkish coloured box where it says ‘Past Long URL’, paste your post link.
  5. Wait two seconds, or click ‘Create’ (in orange at the bottom)

Et voila! You have a completely unique, completely traceable link. Bit.ly creates a link with random characters and, at this point your link is done and ready to go.

If you’e so inclined, however, you can customize this link to best fit your content. There’s a box that says ‘Customize Back Half’ – in here, you can change the random characters Bit.Ly uses to something suitable for you. Example: Bit.ly/fsdf234sad or Bit.ly/VeeIsAmazing123

Once your link is created to your liking, copy the traceable link and use that to post to social media, to share via emails, to include in comments and forums, etc… Then, every time someone clicks on that link, Bit.ly traces that data. Where they clicked on the link from, what date it was they clicked on the link, what country the person lives in, what time of day was most popular for the link and much much more.

Why does this matter?

Having analytics and data about how people find your blog is like holding a secret key to a door that not everyone knows exists.

Bit.ly is such an easy solution for analytics for bloggers, especially those just starting out, because it’s free. Whilst WordPress tracks your WordPress analytics and Twitter tracks your Twitter analytics, etc… Bit.ly allows you to track real time analytics from any website where you post the unique link. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or wherever your little heart desires all in one place.

Data it collects:

  1. Where people come from (what site: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, etc…)
  2. Where people come from (what country they live in)
  3. What day of the week your links are most popular
  4. The dates people are clicking on your link. While there’ll likely be an influx of people clicking on the date you’re posting the link for the first time, are there people coming a week later? A month later? Bit.ly is going to track that and how they found your link a month later.

Using this unique link will tell you real time data of how effective your social media/digital integration promotion is and where your audience comes from. Once you have that data, it’s completely up to you what you do with it. But, if your desire is to grow your blog at all, data like this is invaluable!

A rant about digital marketing

Digital marketing is a difficult beast. Everyone thinks they can do it better than the next person and everyone thinks it takes little-to-no-effort to do that. Truth be told, if you want to be successful in digital marketing, you need to be willing to put the time and effort in. You also need the know-how to make smart, strategic decisions. Whether this is to do with business, or your personal ventures online, the odds of becoming an overnight success is about as likely as you beating Bianca Andreescu at the US Open.

Just because you say it does not mean that people should listen.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. It’s a hard lesson to teach. A few weeks back I was talking to a professional acquaintance of mine who was asking me to make a Facebook page for her business. She wanted to give me a $1,000 budget to make a Facebook page for her business that day and proceed to run Facebook advertisements throughout the next few months.

THIS IS NOT EFFECTIVE DIGITAL MARKETING. Though, by definition, it does meet the requirements of being marketing, is it worth the time, effort or money that it’s going to take? Hell no.

I cannot stress this enough. Just because you say it does not mean that people should or will listen.

If you know your way around the internet, what would your reaction be to seeing a Facebook advertisement, or advertisement on any social media platform for that matter, from a company that had no following, no established profile and made no effort to do so?

You’d probably think twice before believing anything that appeared in that advertisement, right? You’d probably make use of the brain in your head and opt for a business with an established profile on social media. Or, at the very least, one with reviews.

But this acquaintance of mine, she’s under the impression that if she pays for the Facebook advertisements, people will pay for her service. Actually, there’s a lot of people out there who believe this. It’s astounding to me how many people operate under the notion that if you throw money at social media, you’ll get what you want.

I’m using this story as an example because I think it’s an important belief that I’d like to quash. If you open a business profile on social media or WordPress with the single goal being to make sales, you will fail. You’ll likely fall flat on your face very quickly into your quest. If you start your own blog, or twitter, or youtube channel, etc.. with the sole goal of becoming famous, you will likely fail. You can buy the fanciest cameras and computers, all of the editing equipment you could ever desire, and it won’t matter.

People need to see credibility in the content they’re reading, watching or listening to. They need to see an established effort to make connection. They don’t just want productions… or opinions jammed down their throats with no character, humility or genuine nature to them. They want something real. If you fail to establish that real, you’re going to sink before your dreams of success will ever be realized.

I’ve been working in digital marketing for a decade. I’ve worked with social media accounts that only have 100 followers and social media accounts that have nearly 100,000. I’ve made the mistakes. I’ve felt the victories and I’ve seen what it takes to make an account go from 100 followers to 100,000. Let me tell you, there is no quick fix. You’re not going to sink $1,000 into Facebook advertisements and have a booming business. You’re not going to sink a couple of ‘Nice Post’ comments into the comment section of another blog and suddenly have enough money to buy a Range Rover.

If you want people to invest in you (because you are integral to this scenario), your social media following, your blog, your business accounts, any aspect of what is online that you are trying to market, you need to work at it. You need to make strategic decisions and take the appropriate time and effort necessary to grow organically. This applies to business. This applies to personal.

Be authentic. Put forth the necessary effort to actually participate in the realms you’re operating. If you don’t, you’ll never find what you’re seeking from social media, blogs, the web in general, digital marketing will forever escape you and you’ll continue to wonder why.